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NZ Post's secret audio recordings

NZ Post's secret audio recordings include householders chatting to their postie at their letterbox and on their private property

Unknown to most of its posties, NZ Post has been making continuous audio recordings while they are out driving the new postal delivery vehicles. (A fleet of four-wheel electric Norwegian made Paxsters are currently being rolled out throughout the country.)

The audio recordings include conversations between the postie and members of the public who have spoken with the posties on their rounds. These conversations have taken place not only on public roads and footpaths but also at the letterboxes, in private driveways and on private property where the Paxster has travelled while delivering parcels and tracked and registered items. Householders standing on their own doorsteps may also have their conversations with their posties being recorded without their knowledge.

NZ Post has refused the Union's written request asking NZ Post to stop all audio recordings until the privacy issues can be resolved with the guidance of the Privacy Commission.

In February 2005 NZ Post faced what the Dominion Post called "public fury" when it instructed posties to secretly gather information on the condition of the paint on private houses. NZ Post then proposed to sell the information gathered to a commercial paint company.

At that time the posties were concerned that their valued and trusting relationships with householders would be undermined by a project that could then extend to, for example, checking which householders' lawns needed mowing or whether their car was getting a bit old. When this attempt by NZ Post of a secret organised breach of the householders' privacy was publicised by the Union NZ Post was forced to immediately cancel the project.

NZ Post has fitted its Paxsters with forward-facing high-resolution dashboard type cameras which have a GPS function allowing NZ Post to pinpoint the exact location and addresses of all the images and conversations it records. The cameras and audio automatically record at all times the Paxster vehicle has its ignition switched on.

NZ Post had told the Postal Workers Union that the camera would be used to record visual images for use in investigating accidents and incidents threatening the security of its employees. The union learned only last week that the cameras also record sound, and that NZ Post management has been downloading and secretly eavesdropping on the private conversations recorded without the knowledge of the employees.

NZ Post had demonstrated to the Union the forward-facing type camera mounted in each Paxster to record incidents or accidents. However the company made no mention of audio recordings. Despite the Union now making strong objections to NZ Post, the company insists on continuing to make audio recordings of both its employees and members of the public.

The PWUA has no issue with NZ Post using recording technology to safeguard the safety and security of postal workers, but believes that NZ Post’s current practice goes well beyond security and breaches the privacy rights of its employees and members of the public.

The PWUA has been waiting since early last year for NZ Post to install reversing cameras on the Paxsters following consistent reports of the vehicles backing into objects which the postie cannot see because of the 4 to 5 metre blind spot behind the vehicle. The union is seriously concerned that it is only a matter of time before a pedestrian, in particular a curious child, is seriously injured by the “blind” backing of the Paxster on the footpath or a driveway.

The union has noted the eagerness of NZ Post to install and use the front-facing video and audio camera while being very slow to install a reversing camera which employees can use to ensure public safety.

The Postal Workers Union does not agree that continuous audio recordings are necessary for the safety and security of postal workers, and believes that the recordings are a serious breach of the privacy of the public and undermines the relationship that posties have with householders on their delivery rounds.

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